Britain will open a new military base in Oman next year, sending hundreds of troops to the sultanate in the same month it is scheduled to leave the European Union.
The announcement was made by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, as he observed a major joint military exercise between the British and Omani armed forces.
The base will house hundreds of British troops and will be used as a training facility for the Omani armed forces.
The announcement comes two years after the countries signed a comprehensive military training agreement, and just weeks after Mr Williamson succeeded in securing an extra £1 billion in funding for the military in last month’s budget.
It is scheduled to open next March.
Mr Williamson said the move would strengthen Britain’s regional security commitment. “The symbolism of this Omani British base opening as we exit the European Union I hope isn’t lost on people,” he said.
The Defense Secretary was in Oman observing the final days of Operation Saif Sarea 3 – the exercise which saw 5,500 British troops training alongside almost 70,000 Omani soldiers. British tanks, fighter jets and war ships were all transported to the gulf for the five-week training exercise, designed to simulate an invasion.
Shortly after the announcement, Mr Williamson took a ride in a challenger tank in scenes similar to those of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher atop a tank in 1989.
Speaking from on board the HMS Albion, he said that both the new base and the exercise, refuted the idea that Britain’s departure from the EU was indicative of a wider withdrawal from international affairs. “This is the largest military exercise that is going on in the world at present. Britain isn’t retreating from the world. We are stepping out,” he said.
In a tweet, Mr Williamson thanked the Omani authorities and noted the close ties between the two countries’ armed forces. "I was delighted to spend time in Oman and I thank the Royal Omani Army, Navy and Air Force for their gracious hospitality. Saif Sarea embodies the close relationship between Omani and British forces and I look forward to strengthening the important bond between our two nations."
Last year, Britain signed a deal with Oman permitting the use of the Arabian Sea port of Duqm for British Naval ships, the new base will give Britain a permanent presence in the country for the first time since 1971.